I’m a 28-year-old professional, and my relationship of five years recently ended. The breakup was friendly, mature, heart breaking and complicated. His family was my family. We had shared assets to divvy up, an apartment to set a timeline on moving out of, and long-formed habits to break like talking to each other every day, turning to each other for comfort and telling each other everything—no easy feat when you’re both in pain and there’s a lot you’d like to tell your best friend. No, there weren’t any lawyers involved (thank god and no offense), but what I went through (what I’m still going through about a month later) is, in a lot of ways, more akin to a divorce than the more casual sounding, just-get-over-it-already, can-we-talk-about-something-else-now, please-don’t-cry-at-the-bar term “breakup.”
So really, you’d think that people could just be nice. And supportive. Or at the very least not assholes. Apparently, they cannot. Herein, the most f*cked up things people said to me during my breakup [so far], and what they could’ve said instead….
Oh, might he? Well I’ll just hang out in this turret, waiting night after night, growing my locks nice and long so that he’ll have something to scale when my prince charming returns to rescue me from the tragedy that is being single.
Admittedly, I didn’t pull the trigger on ending my relationship – yes, ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in my life, I have been dumped. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the problems that we were having or see that a lot needed to be fixed. I haven’t lost hope that he could ever love me again – we both still love each other quite a lot. We’ve hit some fundamental differences that just can’t seem to be resolved right now. Ending the relationship is devastating, being without someone you’ve come to consider half of yourself is terrifying, but that doesn’t mean I’m down to overlook everything that’s not working just to be with him. I’m committed to looking forward – suggesting that I dwell and wait is not helping. I blame Mariah Carey for this one.
Instead, how about: waiting for cues from the friend going through the breakup about what they want, hope or expect to happen. Overall, giving people the option to talk about it or not and offering sympathy and support unless they’re about to do something patently dumb (like, say, drunkenly calling the guy and telling him he’s her butterfly) is almost always the best way to go.
During my first non-internship, on salary, grownup job, one of the [male] partners at the 30-person firm I was working for went through a divorce. I did financial affidavits for a family law firm for six months and I know more about the monetary details of that man’s divorce settlement than I ever knew about a single one of my former clients. The whole firm heard all the dirty details and was required to hate and disown his ex-wife, whom everyone had sat next to at Christmas parties for years upon years. And with the custody battle raging and arguments flying about who could provide the best childcare, I often found myself pseudo-babysitting two kids under the age of 10 in my office. And I’m not into kids.
Was he hurting his personal brand? Did anyone tell him to just shut up about it already? No – instead the company bent over backwards to make special accommodations and to be understanding. My current boss, on the other hand, let me know that – even though my utilization (I work in an industry that bills by the hour) was well over 100 percent (unheard of for a vice president) and I was bringing in new business, mentoring junior staff and in the midst of winning awards for the work I’d done over the past year while my relationship and accompanying mental health were suffering – that showing emotion over the end of my relationship was changing the way the company thought of me. “There’s such a thing as too much processing – you need to push through this, otherwise your entire career will be defined by this one moment in time,” she told me three weeks post-breakup.
Instead, how about: saying nothing to me. And to anyone who questions my value based on a few tears shed around the office, “her work quality hasn’t suffered. She adds tremendous value, and no one at this company [yet] is a robot. We work with human beings, and this office isn’t our life, what we do outside of it is. When someone’s suffering but their work isn’t, we should be impressed and compassionate.”
“Please do not throw this relationship away; you only get love like this once in your life.” – My Mother
I assume every reader of this post’s jaw just dropped. I know mine did when I received this message via text. Yep, text. Mother of the year. But truthfully, my mom, bless her heart, she’s not great at stuff. And I know this. And frankly, I’m not terribly surprised that my southern, conservative mother prefers my military serving now-ex-boyfriend to her urban, liberal daughter who’s never going to give her grandkids. But did I mention that I GOT BROKEN UP WITH HERE!? I definitely didn’t throw anything away, I think if anything I probably tried to stick longer than was advisable.
And “love like this once in your life,” huh? I’m pretty sure cultural anthropologists are still debating that one based on eons of natural human history. At this point in my life, I’m not sure what I think about “the one” vs. serial monogamy vs. the million other relationship configurations that are out there. What I know is that I had a good relationship that made me happy, and it’s over now – which wasn’t my call, but I don’t think it was the wrong call. And I absolutely believe that I will have another good relationship that will make me happy again…even though I’m not at all ready to think about or pursue it right now.
Instead, how about: “We just want you to be happy – I know that’s probably hard right now. We love you so much. This must be very hard. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.” Or just send money. I may be an adult now, but I will never ever turn down financial contributions from my parents.
“You’re smart/pretty/young/funny/successful/interesting/outgoing/all of the above. You’ll find someone else, don’t worry.” – Almost Friggin’ Everyone
Look, I know that some people do worry about this – I’ve consoled many a friend who was worried about this, especially girlfriends who want to have kids. I happen not to want to have kids. And honestly, men (and sometimes women) have never really been a problem for me before. Who knows, maybe now that I’m closer to 30 than 20 I’ll find that the landscape has changed, but I strongly suspect that I’ve still got it.
And while this feedback is couched as reassurance, the truth is, it’s a reflection of social doubt that I think almost everyone – single, committed or married – carries buried inside of him or her. I feel like people are projecting their fears of ending up alone onto me, and frankly I’m not scared of ending up alone, so I’d really prefer if everyone could keep their insecurity to themselves. I understand why a breakup would be particularly disconcerting to someone who considers getting married and having kids to be one of their major goals in life – it’s one more person crossed off that list that you won’t be marrying or it’s time “wasted” when you could’ve been finding someone with marriage potential.
But honestly, getting married is not a major goal of mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m down to throw the party, take the big vacation, get the presents and…oh yeah, find someone I want to be with for the rest of my life. But right now, that last part sounds really scary, and honestly, if it doesn’t happen, I’m cool.
Instead, how about: not assuming that everyone wants the same things in life. Recognize that a breakup can be sad just because of the breakup itself, not because of any greater implication about the direction of the person’s romantic life from here on out. A simple “I’m really sorry, that must hurt” goes a long way.
I don’t think any of these people were actually trying to be mean – it’s hard to know what to say in these situations, I respect that. But if you can’t make it better – and there’s no shame in that, few can – the least you can do is not make it worse. Most people going through a breakup don’t need any advice, just people to listen to them, love them and distract them. And buying a stiff drink is never frowned upon.
Brett Ashley is a 28 year-old urban professional born in the southern United States who has been moving between major metropolitan cities ever since. She blogs under a pseudonym to protect the innocent (and not so), and has a penchant for bad television, good wine and Hemingway references.